Malaysian filmmaker’s farewell to dad gains international acclaim

Filmmaker Victor Chen says he made My Ba’s Radio in honour of his dad.

PETALING JAYA: Sometimes words fail us when we need it most. Sometimes it’s because language alone can hardly bridge the distance between two souls that have drifted apart, a little every day, through the years.

When Seremban-born filmmaker Victor Chen Yee Fei, 25 lost his dad to a brief but terminal illness, his biggest misgiving was his inability to say, “I love you, Ba” before his dad slipped away.

Speaking to FMT about the days following his father’s death from lung cancer, Victor, who was 18 at the time, says, “I wanted to whisper ‘I love you’ to him because we had a very close bond once although we grew apart in later years. But I didn’t know how to express my love for him then.”

He struggled to come to terms with his loss and started contemplating the meaning of life. Years later, Victor found himself taking up writing as he channelled his emotional turmoil into creating the short film “My Ba’s Radio”.

Picked for Best Short Film at the Mantova Lovers Short Film Festival in Italy on May 10, Victor says the entire project was a personal and emotional one for him and his crew of “passionate” friends, who were rooting for him the entire time.

My Ba’s Radio is the tale of an old man grieving the loss of his wife, and his adult son who tries to understand his father but does not know how to comfort him.

The only solace the father has, is a radio constantly by his side playing old Chinese love songs that transport him back to his days with his wife.

But how will it pan out for the two estranged men in the story? Will the father and son finally reconnect and reconcile or be lost to each other for good?

Victor, seen here directing actors Fai Chen (son) and Tam Yee Swee (father).

A deeply personal journey

My Ba’s Radio has many parallels with Victor’s own life. “My dad carried his radio with him everywhere he went. He was an Elvis fan and loved Country and Western.”

It was only natural then for art to mimic life by making the radio the main link between father and son in the short film, while exploring the theme of music as the universal language of love between husband and wife, father and son.

Modest, honest and straight talking, Victor who describes himself as “geeky” when he was young, says he was not naturally creative but attributes his love for films to his father, who took him to see his first movie when he was just seven years old.

Fascinated by the larger-than-life experience of cinematic storytelling, Victor and his two younger brothers would fashion Transformers figurines at home, made from clothes pegs and anything else they could get their hands on.

It’s a wrap! The crew standing around the well inside the house as filming came to an end at 2am.

“When I was in Form 1, my brothers and I even shot our own Transformers film. I edited it on Windows Movie Maker. But unfortunately the film is lost now,” Victor says, looking somewhat dejected.

His love for creating films however took on a life of its own when he met his now best friend Andy Darrel Gomes, who together with Victor wrote the script of My Ba’s Radio.

Victor says Andy, a lecturer in film with a background in theatre, opened up the world of indie films to him and introduced him to renowned filmmakers like the late Yasmin Ahmad and a host of others in the same field.

On Andy’s encouragement, the shy Victor, then only 20 years old, agreed to act on stage, playing the youngest son in the play “Homecoming”.

Before long, Victor realised he had gone from watching films to acting on stage to actually creating his own stories.

The making of My Ba’s Radio

Victor says My Ba’s Radio was “meant to be” on so many levels. Although not consciously planned, the film was coincidentally shot on Nov 5, his late father’s birthday. The set location meanwhile was his grandfather’s actual house in Semenyih.

“My dad grew up in that house. My dad’s whole family grew up in that house. It’s like 60 years old. And they drank the water from the well inside.”

Victor also says that everyone on the set from his mentors to the lighting crew to the writers gave their 200% in the making of this film, especially actors Fai Chen (son) and Tam Yee Swee (father).

The crew of My Ba’s Radio at work.

“Everyone was so joyous about the project. Even when we wrapped up shooting at 2am, everyone still stayed back to celebrate. It was unlike usual film production sets that can be very stressful because everybody is chasing after time, and the workload is heavy.”

Victor gave a special mention to Director of Photography Yuki Eyok, who he says was generous with her input and gave a “gentle touch and female eye” to the film.

He also mentioned editor Willie Ong and colourist Beh Jing Qiang referring to Yuki, Willie and Beh as the “perfect trio”.

As such the recent win in Italy for Best Short Film although unexpected, was not so much a personal win for Victor but one for the entire team.

Quoting his best friend’s words of wisdom, Victor says, “If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go together.”

Victor says the crew was passionate about the job from start to finish.

My Ba’s Radio was completed in 2016 under the mentorship of Yasu and Bea Tanaka from 42nd Pictures with support from Panasonic Malaysia.

The short film won Best Short Film and Best Cinematography at the Panasonic Digital Short Film Competition 2016 before traveling to Short Shorts Film Festival and Asia 2017 (Tokyo, Japan), the Asian World Film Festival 2017 (Hollywood, USA), Expressions Short Film Festival 2017 (India), Asia Peace Film Festival 2017 (Pakistan), Our Shorts Their Shorts 2018 (Bangladesh) and One Country One Film Festival 2018 (France).

For more about the short film My Ba’s Radio, go to: https://m.facebook.com/mybasradio/

To watch the full-length short film go to: https://www.viddsee.com/video/my-bas-radio/hfgyr